From flowers to fission

I’ve just spent the weekend away with a few friends. One was a friend I made in hospital when Mrs Physics was fighting with her gallstones and the doctor’s were trying to do a  Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatogram (ERCP) without waking her up or making a hole in her pancreas.

She was a delightful young woman who was brought into the ward following her bedside table, which had a pair of young trendy short boots and the most splendid flower arrangement I’ve ever seen. The residents of the ward were making judgements about the person who belonged to the boots and flowers. Despite this young woman being a modern kinda girl she had a homely attitude to life. We shared a liking for Lady Grey tea (her friends call it lady tea), early nights in and lots of laughter.

The flowers were from her previous boss Andrea’s Florist Stranraer, where she worked as a florist after leaving school at 16. Despite obvious talent, my friend wasn’t content with life as a florist and decided to join the navy as a medic. She joined the NAVY on 17th January 2010  HMS Raleigh in Plymouth- which isn’t even a ship! After 6 ½ years and her hospitalisation she had been determined to leave her desk job in the navy to train as a submariner (person who works on a submarine).

We spent the first night away discussing all the non classified training she had done since she left hospital and collected Charlie the dog as a companion.

She started her training in June 2016. My friend commented “The people on my course were awesome” and so everyone passed.

As part of the submariner training she learned about Biology and especially the formation of cells, meiosis and mitosis, and effects of radiation on cells, cancers tumours. Lots of maths, which they didn’t tell her about. She completed loads of calculations and fell in love with Avogadro and his number. Her confidence had rocketed since I saw her in hospital. In her Health Physics course she learned about doses, does rate, Gray, millisieverts, decay factor (half life/ time) the inverse square law and decays as well as all about the workings of a nuclear reactor.

Some of the Physics was practical linking how a submarine escape depends on the gas laws, especially Boyles’ Law. The group got to play with atmosphere equipment and the gear to detect gases on the subs. As it is the medics who are responsible for atmosphere on board. Maximum permissible levels of contaminants, 60 min emergency, 24 hour and 90 day limits were all part of the training and my friend was obviously confident to use all of these numbers, although she didn’t tell me what they needed to be. The atmosphere is sampled regularly. As part of the Health and Safety the course covers shielding , policy, half value, law and legislation.

Information on the atmosphere of the submarines is shared with NASA as there are links between the confines of a submarine and a spaceship. Whether they have a similar smell I have no way of knowing, but I was assured there is nothing like the smell of a submarine, not that it was unpleasant, it is just unique.

Escorted by tugs, Royal Navy submarine HMS Astute sails up the Clyde estuary into her home port of Faslane, Scotland for the first time following the journey from Barrow-in-Furness shipyard.
*** Local Caption *** LA (phot) JJ MASSEY

Her boss has visited the Roll’s Royce who make the submarine reactors and stated that it was not as high tech place as you’d imagine.

I could see that during the last six months my friend has become so excited by Physics and the other Sciences and was totally enjoying what she had learned. Now I am sure when she was at school she never thought that this would be what she would be doing, and could never think that this would be her day job. So what you know is that you don’t know what you might one day be using, so start learning when it is easy as it gets harder with age.

Thanks for coming away, and for sharing your experiences, see I never mentioned the pirates or the other thing!

P.S. I’ve been offered a trip for students to see what they do at the Submarine Base- would you like to come?


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